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Tuesday, January 11, 2011 | Comments (25)

After seeing the many good comments following our first post on fasting, I’m happy to return to the topic again today. Your anecdotes show the importance of addressing this subject biblically. It provokes the protective side of my pastoral nature when I hear that others, including pastors, have used fasting to manipulate and intimidate you spiritually. So, let’s go straight to Jesus and see these things for what they are.

Summary: Jesus’ teaching on fasting in the Sermon on the Mount was primarily designed to warn his disciples against the sin of hypocrisy.

Last time we said that voluntary fasting in the Old Testament expressed a mournful, urgent seeking of God in distressing circumstances. That presupposes a sincere spirit, exclusively directed vertically toward God, devoid of ulterior motives in the presence of men. Jesus continues that fundamental approach when He says in Matthew 6:16-18:

Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

That passage is part of Jesus’ larger teaching against hypocrisy in the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7. It’s crucial for you to see this as you seek to understand the role of fasting in the Christian life.

Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 6:1).

True worship glorifies God, not the man or woman who proposes to seek Him. Jesus illustrates that point with three examples: giving, praying, and fasting. Notice how he repeatedly exposes the hypocrisy of pretending to worship God while actually seeking the approval of men:

So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full (Matthew 6:2).

When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full (Matthew 6:5).

Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full (6:16).

Jesus repeatedly warns his disciples against calculating outward acts of righteousness so that men will see and praise them. Sinful motives forfeit any reward before God. Hypocrites have the audacity to use supposed acts of righteousness to get the praise of men to feed their sinful pride. What an abomination!

That is Jesus’ primary message in this section of the Sermon on the Mount. By contrast, he teaches his disciples to do those acts privately, where only God can see, if they are truly seeking God’s reward.

But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:3-4).

But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:6).

But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:18).

It is exceedingly crucial for you to see this overarching point: Jesus taught us to go out of our way to conceal these acts of righteousness. Men cannot praise you for what they cannot see. By contrast, God, who looks on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7), will see the true humility of a shattered heart that is seeking Him, and Him alone. When He sees an undivided heart, that’s when He rewards giving, praying, and fasting.

The Pharisees in Jesus’ day turned that principle of concealment on its head. Jesus condemned the smug self-righteousness of the Pharisee who prayed, “I fast twice a week, I tithe of all that I get” (Luke 18:9-14). Although the Old Testament required only one fast a year (Leviticus 16:29), history tells us the Pharisees fasted on Monday and Thursday to multiply their religious observances. The Pharisee in Luke 18 was really saying, “God, I’m more righteous than even You require.”

Twice a week! One hundred fasts a year! Wow! How impressive is that?

Not impressive at all. They were only adding tasks of their own invention, which they carried out in a way to maximize their attention from men. Looked great on the outside.

Totally rejected by God who looks on the inside. Colossians 2:23 says:

These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.

The Pharisees had missed that point entirely. They fasted so others would think they had deep spiritual desires when they really didn’t.

They fasted from food and fed their pride.

That’s why Jesus said the praise of men was their only reward. Their fasting had no value before God.

I do not hesitate to say that much of what passes for Christian fasting today is equally worthless. Pastors and other Christians who call attention to the nature and frequency of their fasting are violating the most fundamental statements of Jesus about spiritual devotion. They cannot evade the plain meaning of His words: When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men (Matthew 6:16-17).

In other words, don’t call attention to yourself in any way. Don’t exaggerate a gloomy face so people will recognize your fasting. Act and talk like you do when you are not fasting so others won’t notice you.

In today’s terms, someone needs to stand up to these people and say, Stop talking about how great your fasting program is and how much fasting has humbled you! Don’t talk about how much power you have with God!

Here’s the hard but obvious truth. If these people were truly humbled in the presence of God, they would obey Jesus instead of calling attention to themselves.

Having said that, my real concern in this post is not to challenge those people but to strengthen those sincere Christians whom the public fasters try to manipulate and intimidate. Far from submitting to their efforts to bind your conscience to a man-made fasting program, your responsibility before Christ is to reject them (Colossians 2:20-23).

Reject their efforts to impose non-biblical standards on your conscience. No man has the prerogative to go beyond what is written in the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 4:6).

Reject their public displays of false holiness.

While those things have the appearance of wisdom and advanced spirituality, they are actually rooted in pride, arrogance, and a dismissal of the plain words of the Master. How could that be an indication of true, biblical holiness?

No, beloved. God calls us to a secret approach to righteousness that avoids the praise of men. That’s true not only in fasting, but giving, prayer, and every other area of your spiritual life. Your motive must be His approval, not the approval of men.

How do you cultivate that attitude in your life? Jesus teaches you to conceal your private devotion from men. Consciously order your life so men won’t notice your spiritual disciplines. Refuse those inner impulses to drop subtle words about what you’re doing.

Instead, devote your exclusive attention in these matters to your heavenly Father who sees in secret. That cultivates spiritual intimacy with God because you share something with Him alone.

You know what’s great about that approach?

“Your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

In exchange for private devotion, we get our heavenly Father’s reward? In light of that promise, who cares what these self-appointed teachers say? I will gladly dismiss their condescending attitudes toward me.

Won’t you?

More still to come . . .

Don Green
Managing Director


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#1  Posted by Mark Tanner  |  Tuesday, January 11, 2011at 2:25 PM

Don,

Thanks for the insights and the encouragement and the reminders and may God continue to bless you and all those at GTY.

May I make a two topic suggestions; perhaps it has already been breached, but the Lord has put it on me as I continue to seek a Christ centered church for my family and I. These are two issues I was unaware were issues in my search for a church where the primary denomination is Southern Baptist.

1) The KJV-onlyism; wow have I seen some real "silly" arguments and outrageous assumptions coming from people with very sound theology.

2) I keep running into the Arminian or perhaps a "semi-Arminian" theology among the Southern Baptist and why it is important for all of us who continue seeking a Christ centered church to recognize and then avoid these preachers. If for no other reason ; they will never preach the whole counsel of God as commanded and tend to be dogmatic based on emotion rather than Scripture.

I just went to a church this past Sunday where the preacher is a KJV only and "semi-Arminian", which I'm not convinced such an animal actually exists. I was told that he does not go toward the extreme, but does not believe God would predetermine those who would be in heaven and by default predetermine who would be in hell. (The monster-god) So I asked how many people God would see looking down the corridor of time? About Romans 3 and how many would "seek after God" and Ephesians 2 about our nature.

To me it is a no-brainer; a person or an animal will only do according to its nature and God says through the Apostle Paul that we were by nature "children of wrath". What happens as they try to address this is they confound the Scripture and I believe it can and does get altogether into another gospel by stealing the glory of God in all of salvation and thus it can be very dangerous - do you agree?

I apologize for getting off topic and do not expect you to answer the latter question unless you decide at some point to make this a topic of discussion for the blog. Thanks for your considerations.

Mark

#2  Posted by Keith Farmer  |  Tuesday, January 11, 2011at 2:53 PM

The other push that goes along with this modern day pseudo-fasting business is the centering-prayer practices designed to "go deeper" into one's relationship with God. I have actually had conversations with pastors whom I thought were grounded in scripture defend contemplative centering-prayer practices under the guise of "spiritual disciplines"...

Thanks for the no-gloves approach Don. We must contend earnestly for truth as opposed to whatever is popular at the moment and you are doing just that very thing!

#3  Posted by Dan Wilson  |  Tuesday, January 11, 2011at 3:13 PM

What we do is only between the Christian and God. I look back, I

feel guilty of telling others what I did. Thanks for the post.

I now understand what you meant. If I see one fasting, giving, praying without the person knowing I saw what he is doing. I should keep it to myself and ask Jesus' help me to do the same. That's a good thing, right? I agree that fasting, giving should never be public. Amen.

Sometimes I bow my head to thank God in public for my food. I don't

parade it. I agree.

God bless.

#4  Posted by Matthew Ens  |  Tuesday, January 11, 2011at 7:11 PM

Another great post. Thank you for your hard work. I am already looking forward to the next post.

#5  Posted by James Gheen  |  Wednesday, January 12, 2011at 4:24 AM

What would you say about those who fast as a group or a church the same way you would pray as a group or a church?

#6  Posted by Alex Soriano  |  Wednesday, January 12, 2011at 6:15 AM

Great post... thanks for that helpful insight.

I have some heavy discussion with someone about fasting today. The person told me that they are fasting for one week because they want to have breakthroughs and blessings in their personal and church life. I asked who told them that fasting will indeed cause God to bring blessing and breakthroughs. The person showed me their booklet containing verses that support their fasting; along with it, is a schedule, options and program of their fasting.

I think this modern day fasting is closely related with some type of prosperity gospel. There is that assumption that fasting will intensify prayer or make prayer more audible to God and consequently will provoke God to answer positively.

#7  Posted by Bobbie Luymes  |  Wednesday, January 12, 2011at 7:03 AM

Good info. Thanks. When I am fasting and keeping it quiet, it's from other believers I get the most grief. If I am interacting with them and they offer me food, I politely refuse. They cannot handle that and keep pushing the food on me. It's just like when I was unsaved and my friends kept pushing alcohol on me... Eventually I tell the other believer that I am fasting to get them to back off and that's when they become hurt. I guess I have to get better at my initial reponse...or stay home while fasting.

#8  Posted by Yc Lee  |  Wednesday, January 12, 2011at 11:19 AM

Thanks for the article. There were times when I was very down but was greatly encouraged by knowing others were praying for me. I started to tell others that I was praying for them and hoped they would be encouraged too. Is this guilty too? Does it depend on motivation, or a strictly secrecy?

#9  Posted by Gabriel Powell  |  Wednesday, January 12, 2011at 11:31 AM

Bobbie,

You've brought up what is the most difficult aspect of private fasting. I don't know that our culture is any more or less social (probably less) than the 1st century, but it seems like the day you fast is the day someone asks what you're eating or offers you food.

As I think about it (and I'm looking forward to the next installment of this series), I wonder if this difficulty in some ways is enhanced by an unbiblical practice of fasting. For example, a weekly, monthly, or otherwise regular fast would make it difficult for most people to just stay home. The biblical teaching that we should look normal when we fast assumes that we'll be out and about.

Does anyone have suggestions on how they respond discreetly when someone is offering food?

#10  Posted by Gabriel Powell  |  Wednesday, January 12, 2011at 11:37 AM

Jay,

Hopefully the rest of this series will help answer your question more fully, but one thought I have is in my experience a corporate fast was totally unnecessary. For example, churches have done 40-day fasts (of course everyone could pick and choose what they wanted to fast from) in hopes of clarifying the direction of the church. By fasting they hoped God would communicate directly to individual members. Then they collected that supposed divine revelation to determine what general things the church should do.

To some of us in the congregation this was a denial of the sufficiency of Scripture because Scripture is quite clear as to what a church should be doing.

So part of the answer to your question is why are they doing it?. If they are seeking answers to something clearly revealed in Scripture then it's pretty safe to say the corporate fast is unbiblical.

#11  Posted by Francis Danieles  |  Wednesday, January 12, 2011at 11:41 AM

I have NEVER been able to "crucify" all of my desires en-mass (food, tobbacco, alcohol, lust, caffeine) as well as subdue anger, envy, pride, impatience, to name some..ANY other way than through fasting, and fasting for more than 5 days (a critical point)

Those members of churches that I've attended might give imply that I am truely not saved, as evidenced by my fleshly wants.

My opinion is that, they don't really like cigarettes nor alcohol, and have a low libido, or are able to satisfy themselves in a monogamous situation...those things are easy for them to crucify; but; I hear them say "I LOVE my Starbucks coffee, gotta have it!!" or "Boy, this (insert junkfood item here) is out of this world!!"

When the "rubber meets the road," I say -remove the log from your own eyes (you're addiction to food) so that you can see better to remove the splinter (beer and cigarettes) from mine..

People have been programmed with scripture, under the hypnotic trance administered by a Pastor, who preaches with a repetitive, rythmic cadence; they "go forth amongst the people" and bear fruit, but have they ever felt the physical strength go out of their bodies as the spirit grows strong in their weakness, and been set free by The Truth that, gee, the most important thing is the life we have been given, which is sustained by the "word" of God. The air we breath, food, etc will be added to us; we need not worry. -Just the thoughts of the only guy in my congregation who fasts for long periods...(unless others are doing it secretly, which one would never know, would one?

#12  Posted by Travis Allen  |  Wednesday, January 12, 2011at 11:54 AM

There have been some insightful questions that have come up in this series. Thanks for your comments!

I talked with Don, and he told me he's planning to address your feedback in sort-of a Q&A wrap-up article. So, keep posting the questions, comments, and dilemmas. Don will tackle some of them in a final post.

Travis Allen
Director of Internet Ministry

#14  Posted by Dan Wilson  |  Wednesday, January 12, 2011at 1:26 PM

Just mention no need of planning of food out or in for a week, say I am fine for the week. Just spend a few hours with the person each you see. The person wouldn't ask that week. Hope it helps?

#15  Posted by James Staff  |  Wednesday, January 12, 2011at 3:23 PM

I took it upon myself when during a meditation after a devotion one day, of fasting. It was a week prior to our church's play, SCROOGE. I could not believe how much it played a part of my relationship to God and the play. Nobody was aware I was fasting for 6 days, WOW!

The aforementioned verses came forth more bolder and calmer to me! It really matters when you do fast!

A further note: A fellow employee kept on telling everyone he was fasting for our nation and his faith. When I questioned him on his reasons, he didn't know anything of the verses Jesus had talked about.

I knew I had developed a sense of a deeper commitment and relationship with God.

I didn't want to compare myself and my fellow co-worker, I knew it was wrong, I just wanted to be closer to God. It really mattered to me at that time. God knew what He was doing to me!

#16  Posted by Paul Dresvyannikov  |  Wednesday, January 12, 2011at 8:43 PM

Great post, I am looking forward to the next. The reminder of keeping your spiritual disciplines secret is a crucial thing.

#17  Posted by Tecy St. Louis  |  Thursday, January 13, 2011at 6:26 PM

Hello Mr. Green,

The words you've spoken in both blogs concerning the heart of Christian fasting are both encouraging and convicting. After reading the first blog, I'm encouraged to not feel obligated to a "religious" task with no meaningful reason behind my actions. I appreciate the way explained what the essence of true fasting should be, that is, "a mournful, urgent seeking of God in distressing circumstances," which makes for true worship.

I'm also convicted; after reading part two of the blog, I've been made aware of some areas in my life where I've sought to feed my pride by seeking the attention of men. These are matters I intend to confess and repent of before God. Thank you for these edifying words.

Grace to you,

Tecy

#18  Posted by Dan Wilson  |  Thursday, January 13, 2011at 7:30 PM

One of my favorite book in God's Word, it is Jonah. Why, cause it's easy to memorize that book. What grabs my attention is that the people of Nineveh fasted. It shows they were willing to repent and come to know the true God. It doesn't say how long they fast, They fast cause they understood from Jonah's preaching and come to repent their evil ways. God saw what they did and God relented from it.

It's a powerful part that why is blog shows how important to know fasting. Amen.

Man, I am into this blog and finding stuff in God's Word.

God bless.

#19  Posted by D King  |  Thursday, January 13, 2011at 10:11 PM

It has always seemed ironic to me that while fasting is important in Scripture, and while we in our age need wise and godly teaching on this subject, because of the "don't draw attention to yourself" issue, many conservative Bible teachers and authors have not addressed it. And these are the people we most need to hear from!

I hope you can give some insight for those who are in leadership as to how they can instruct Christians on this topic, not just theologically, but also practically, while being careful to not draw attention to themselves. *Somebody* has to give some help here in specifics, but who can that be if no one can talk about it to anyone else?

Kind of a catch 22 dilemma...

Anyway, thanks for writing on this!

#20  Posted by Dan Wilson  |  Friday, January 14, 2011at 4:49 AM

How do we bring out to the open of what's true fasting and false fasting. What difference is between them.

Just 2 questions.

God bless.

#21  Posted by Cristy Marceus  |  Friday, January 14, 2011at 7:54 AM

Thank You so much for this teaching! I was in the whole house of prayer for the last two years and I feel like a huge burden has been taken off my shoulders. Guilt that I should not feel, and set free by the very word I felt was starting to shackle me! It shouldn't be this way, but many are using the word of God just to enslave people all over again but to self-righteousness. We used to fast twice a week, and the first 3 days of every month. Most people would do 2 40-day fasts of water or daniel fast every year. It made me feel so inadequate. I started to think what was the point in seeking righteousness if i'm just going to fail.

I love GTY! I left the house of prayer almost a year ago and found John MCcarther by the grace of God! I feel like all the lies I believed are being broken by the true word being preached by this ministry! Thank You! Now I know God's word really can set me free!!

#22  Posted by James Mickle  |  Friday, January 14, 2011at 8:33 AM

The beginning of 2010 was a turning point in my Christian walk. Having spent the last 26 years in Charismatic circles, I've seen alot of liberty taken in the name of "going higher with God".

As my life was falling apart, I began intensely examining my faith to verify its genuineness. The conclusion; no genuine conversion. I taught sunday school and even was a deacon in my church, but had no fruit in keeping with repentance. It was all pretense.

Thank you GTY for opening my eyes to orthodox biblical truth and stirring me to come to true repentance and faith in Christ.

As for fasting, it is an important discipline to practice and a great aid to quieting the flesh. Fasting is an important part of my walk with God, as I can focus on His work and in prayer more effectively. However, I've seen it used as a way to attempt to manipulate God into doing this or that for us. That is serious heresy. Charismatica, for the most part approaches fasting this way.

Thank you GTY for reeling us back to the Scriptures to examine this practice. Looking forward to the Q and A session to follow.

God Bless,

Jim

#23  Posted by Tommy Clayton  |  Friday, January 14, 2011at 10:02 AM

D. King:

I understand your concern to not let the self-righteous hijack the practice—and teaching—of fasting, but understand this: the most extensive New Testament teaching on fasting is a warning. So, when you say fasting is important in Scripture, what exactly do you mean? Are you saying fasting is important simply because it appears in the Bible, since everything in the Bible is important? Are you claiming Scripture commands us to fast? Fasting is important in what way? How does Scripture emphasize fasting in a way that merits special attention?

Asking for insight on fasting is essentially asking for something in small supply when it comes to Scripture. That alone is instruction in itself, don’t you think? Further, as Don already pointed out, the first principles taught in Scripture on fasting are how not to practice it. Remember the command? …not as the hypocrites do. I’d say that warrants serious consideration by anyone eager to instruct others on the subject. In fact, that’s the problem Don addressed in both articles, and a recurring theme in the comment thread. Many who attempt instruction in this area use it as a platform to showcase their own artificial piety.

So, when you ask for “practical” teaching on fasting, you’re asking for something the Bible never offers, other than the few words Christ spoke in Matthew 6—do it secretly.

That’s why I appreciate this series of helpful articles by Don. In your comment, you lamented the absence of wise and godly teaching on fasting. But alas! There is balm in Gilead. You have 2 installments of that very thing, right here from Don Green. I can’t wait to read the others.

Thanks for your comment, D.

#24  Posted by Scott Denkscherz  |  Sunday, January 16, 2011at 1:01 PM

In a way the "practical" teaching on fasting comes in the form of the instances of it that are recorded in the bible. Such as when the apostles fasted and prayed when waiting for "the promise" of the Holy Spirit.

One thing I noticed when I was looking for guidence on fasting in the scriptures was that when fasting and prayer are mixed, tremendous things seem to always occur.

I look at fasting as a way of denying the flesh in order to die to it's desires, thereby increasing the place given to the Spirit and His desires. Am I incorrect?

#26  Posted by Jane Wilson  |  Sunday, January 16, 2011at 8:13 PM

Cristy, I praise God to hear that you are out from under the burden that this place is putting on people. There is a great swelling movement in my area (friends on all sides, and in different denominations) that are intrigued with this bunch you came out of. After an intense amount of personal research, I am deeply concerned for all of them. The youth that are getting sucked into this... and older more mature Christians that buy into it through the fasting and feeling more elevated because of their perceived experiences and sacrifices. I have at times been almost beside myself with concern. I talked with another dear friend just this week who desires to encourage her husband to go there to get spiritual help. I tried to graciously warn her about what I had come to believe (warnings of such things in Scripture) through my research, and she thanked me and said she would look into it, and I really think she will. Her daughter at college in another state is planning on being in one of their conferences THIS WEEK, and she knew nothing about it. Also other good friends are letting their youth go to these things. So many are jumping on this bandwagon lately, and being funneled into this fasting, 24/7 prayer group that chants and sings for experiences. I wonder if they realize that there is another spirit that gives "experiences", and that it is not be the Living God. I am very touched by your testimony here, and praise God to hear of one person who has come to the truth from this movement. Because we have other friends that are still blind, fasting away... and desiring leadership there.

#27  Posted by Dan Wilson  |  Monday, January 17, 2011at 4:57 PM

I don't think I did ever fast. If I did, I would keep it to myself.

I rather not cause I would not able to take it. I am weak. It's ok cause Jesus doesn't demand it from me. I respect fasting and it's

good in areas of christian life.

If I can't fast cause of weakness in me, how do I grow?

Just a thought. But it's a sin if I am a glutton. Just a point I

am making.

Oh, I do know sometimes if one lose a love one, they fast. I

understand that part.